Living with credit, Protecting yourself

Putting our cards to the test while traveling

Cynthia Drake

In the midst of a three-week vacation to Texas and Florida, I decided to engage in a little subversive credit card test.

Neither my husband nor I informed any of our credit card companies of our vacation plans (something we used to do diligently). My mission was to see if and when our account would be flagged and if we would receive the standard prerecorded phone call that there had been a suspicious charge that required our attention.


Truthfully, those phone calls are usually just annoyances, but during my travels I found myself hoping they would help confirm that our credit card companies are watching out for our best interest.

By Day 7, no such phone calls came through. At that point, we had mainly purchased groceries and restaurant meals. I started to become curious whether certain transactions — such as liquor, lottery tickets or cash advances — would set the alarm bells off, though I don’t typically make those kinds of transactions.

On Day 10, my husband finally received an automated phone call from MasterCard checking to ensure we were the ones making purchases 1,000 miles from home.

By this point, we had raked up hundreds of dollars in transactions, mainly at gas stations and grocery stores. I didn’t venture into a liquor store, but I did buy a few bottles of wine — solely, of course, for the purposes of this experiment.

I can’t help but think of about the pain and frustration involved in discovering this debt, if we were the unlucky victims of a credit card theft. I guess it is a good reminder to be diligent about canceling cards at the first sign that they come up missing.

Will we notify our credit card companies of upcoming travels in the future? To be honest, we probably will not. The method of alerting consumers to unusual transactions has become so sophisticated it requires just a few minutes on the phone with an automated system to check into these transactions. Ten years ago, you were liable to get a “hold” placed on your card until you confirmed that you were indeed the one making the charges. A safer scenario, possibly, but a much bigger hassle.

And even though 10 days seems like a long time to wait, there was definitely something comforting about getting that call. Someone is watching out for us.

Now back to the regularly scheduled shopping …

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